The Scarlet Empress

Sternberg described The Scarlet Empress as “a relentless excursion into style . . . The tapestry of the Russia of Catherine the Great was evoked in all its grandeur, though it was a re-creation and not a replica.” In fact, this Russia is a pure Sternberg creation, a cauldron of exotic excess and an apotheosis of the director's fascination with decor. Young Sophia Frederica (Dietrich) is bundled in furs and transported past toy onion domes and painted scenery to the Moscow palace where she will wed Grand Duke Peter (Sam Jaffe), a weirdly grinning half-wit who's right at home among the palace's innumerable gargoyles. Ground through the “machine” of imperial marriage, the wide-eyed princess eventually emerges as a potent Empress Catherine, leading the troops in her white hussar's uniform. As usual, Sternberg creates spectacle out of the confusion between female subjugation and female power-Catherine in furs.

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